Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines, UST Faculty Union and others v. Dir Benedicto Ernesto R. Bitonio, Jr, and others, 16 November 1999, G.R. No 131235

Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines

Article II, Section 2

The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations.

Freedom of association
Role of International Law:
Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law
Type of instruments used:

Ratified treaty1

Violation of the rules laid down in the constitution of a trade union for the election of its representatives/ Challenging of an administrative decision which had invalidated that election/ Scope of the right to organize freely/ Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law

Members of a trade union challenged the election of their representatives, arguing that the procedure that had been followed was not in conformity with the procedure laid down in the union’s constitution. They brought the case before an adjudicator, who declared the election of the representatives invalid, and this decision was upheld by the competent authority of the Ministry of Labour. The trade unionists who had been elected as representatives challenged that decision, arguing that the invalidation of election results by an authority external to the trade union violated the right to organize freely.

The Supreme Court clarified the scope of the right to organize freely, reviewing the legal bases of that principle and the resulting rights and obligations for the members of a trade union and including to that effect an extract from a judgment in its decision, in which the judge had interpreted national law in conjunction with ILO Convention No. 87:

 “The constitutional right to self-organization is better understood in the context of ILO Convention No. 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of Right to Organise), to which the Philippines is signatory. Article 3 of the Convention provides that workers’ organizations shall have the right to draw up their constitution and rules and to elect their representatives in full freedom, free from any interference from public authorities. The freedom conferred by the provision is expansive; the responsibility imposed on union members to respect the constitution and rules they themselves draw up equally so. The point to be stressed is that the union’s CBL [Constitution and By-Laws] is the fundamental law that governs the relationship between and among the members of the union. It is where the rights, duties and obligations, powers, functions and authority of the officers as well as the members are defined. It is the organic law that determines the validity of acts done by any officer or member of the union. Without respect for the CBL, a union as a democratic institution degenerates into nothing more than a group of individuals governed by mob rule.”

This reference to ILO Convention No. 87 enabled the Supreme Court of the Philippines to underline the binding nature of the rules laid down in the constitution of a trade union. On this basis, the Court ruled that, since the rules provided for the election of the representatives of the trade union had not been complied with, the administration had been justified in invalidating their election and that that decision did not prejudice the right to organize freely.2

1 ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948 (No. 87).

2 The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association expressed its opinion on the issue of the invalidation of a trade union’s election by an administrative authority. See, ILO: Freedom of Association, Digest of decisions and principles of the Freedom of Association Committee of the Governing Body of the ILO, Fifth (revised) edition (Geneva, 2006):

Paragraph 431: “With regard to an internal dispute within the trade union organization between two rival administrations, the Committee considered that, with a view to guaranteeing the impartiality and objectivity of the procedure, the supervision of trade union elections should be entrusted to the competent judicial authorities.”

Paragraph 440: “Measures taken by the administrative authorities when election results are challenged run the risk of being arbitrary. Hence, and in order to ensure an impartial and objective procedure, matters of this kind should be examined by the judicial authorities.”

Paragraph 443: “In order to avoid the danger of serious limitations on the right of workers to elect their representatives in full freedom, cases brought before the courts by the administrative authorities involving a challenge to the results of trade union elections should not –pending the final outcome of the proceedings- have he effect of paralysing the operations of trade unions.” 

Full text of the decision